A Rant About Women

So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.

Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved?

Of course you can. My home, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, is fairly gender-balanced, and I’ve taught about as many women as men over the last decade. In theory, the gender of my former student should be a coin-toss. In practice, I might as well have given him the pseudonym Moustache McMasculine for all the mystery there was. And I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Remember David Hampton, the con artist immortalized in “Six Degrees of Separation”, who pretended he was Sydney Poitier’s son? He lied his way into restaurants and clubs, managed to borrow money, and crashed in celebrity guest rooms. He didn’t miss the fact that he was taking a risk, or that he might suffer. He just didn’t care.

It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks.

* * *

When I was 19 and three days into my freshman year, I went to see Bill Warfel, the head of grad theater design (my chosen profession, back in the day), to ask if I could enroll in a design course. He asked me two questions. The first was “How’s your drawing?” Not so good, I replied. (I could barely draw in those days.) “OK, how’s your drafting?” I realized this was it. I could either go for a set design or lighting design course, and since I couldn’t draw or draft well, I couldn’t take either.

“My drafting’s fine”, I said.

That’s the kind of behavior I mean. I sat in the office of someone I admired and feared, someone who was the gatekeeper for something I wanted, and I lied to his face. We talked some more and then he said “Ok, you can take my class.” And I ran to the local art supply place and bought a drafting board, since I had to start practicing.

That got me in the door. I learned to draft, Bill became my teacher and mentor, and four years later I moved to New York and started doing my own design work. I can’t say my ability to earn a living in that fickle profession was because of my behavior in Bill’s office, but I can say it was because I was willing to do that kind of thing. The difference between me and David Hampton isn’t that he’s a con artist and I’m not; the difference is that I only told lies I could live up to, and I knew when to stop. That’s not a different type of behavior, it’s just a different amount.

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

Now this is asking women to behave more like men, but so what? We ask people to cross gender lines all the time. We’re in the middle of a generations-long project to encourage men to be better listeners and more sensitive partners, to take more account of others’ feelings and to let out our own feelings more. Similarly, I see colleges spending time and effort teaching women strategies for self-defense, including direct physical aggression. I sometimes wonder what would happen, though, if my college spent as much effort teaching women self-advancement as self-defense.

* * *

Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.

Citizens of the developed world have an unprecedented amount of freedom to choose how we live, which means we experience life as a giant distributed discovery problem: What should I do? Where should I work? Who should I spend my time with? In most cases, there is no right answer, just tradeoffs. Many of these tradeoffs happen in the market; for everything from what you should eat to where you should live, there is a menu of options, and between your preferences and your budget, you’ll make a choice.

Some markets, though, are two-sided — while you are weighing your options, those options are also weighing you. People fortunate enough to have those options quickly discover that it’s not enough to decide you want to go to Swarthmore, or get money out of Kleiner Perkins. Those institutions must also decide if they will have you.

Some of the most important opportunities we have are in two-sided markets: education and employment, contracts and loans, grants and prizes. And the institutions that offer these opportunities operate in an environment where accurate information is hard to come by. One of their main sources of judgment is asking the candidate directly: Tell us why we should admit you. Tell us why we should hire you. Tell us why we should give you a grant. Tell us why we should promote you.

In these circumstances, people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something.

That in turn correlates with many of the skills the candidate will need to actually do the work — to recruit colleagues and raise money, to motivate participants and convince skeptics, to persevere in the face of both obstacles and ridicule. Institutions assessing the fitness of candidates, in other words, often select self-promoters because self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success.

It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope, because it’s other people who get to decide when they think you’re a jerk, and trying to stay under that threshold means giving those people veto power over your actions. To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.

* * *

Not caring works surprisingly well. Another of my great former students, now a peer and a friend, saw a request from a magazine reporter doing a tech story and looking for examples. My friend, who’d previously been too quiet about her work, decided to write the reporter and say “My work is awesome. You should write about it.”

The reporter looked at her work and wrote back saying “Your work is indeed awesome, and I will write about it. I also have to tell you you are the only woman who suggested her own work. Men do that all the time, but women wait for someone else to recommend them.” My friend stopped waiting, and now her work is getting the attention it deserves.

If you walked into my department at NYU, you wouldn’t say “Oh my, look how much more talented the men are than the women.” The level and variety of creative energy in the place is still breathtaking to me, and it’s not divided by gender. However, you would be justified in saying “I bet that the students who get famous five years from now will include more men than women”, because that’s what happens, year after year. My friend talking to the reporter remains the sad exception.

Part of this sorting out of careers is sexism, but part of it is that men are just better at being arrogant, and less concerned about people thinking we’re stupid (often correctly, it should be noted) for trying things we’re not qualified for.

Now I don’t know what to do about this problem. (The essence of a rant, in fact, is that the ranter has no idea how to fix the thing being ranted about.) What I do know is this: it would be good if more women see interesting opportunities that they might not be qualified for, opportunities which they might in fact fuck up if they try to take them on, and then try to take them on. It would be good if more women got in the habit of raising their hands and saying “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome,” no matter how many people that behavior upsets.

511 Responses to “A Rant About Women”

  1. Clay Shirky’s advice for women: go ahead, be an asshole! | dv8-designs Says:

    […] advice for women: go ahead, be an asshole! Deep Thinker Clay Shirky has posted “A Rant About Women,” which explores the notion that men tend to be more comfortable with assertive, […]

  2. RnR Says:


    If you haven’t, you should read this which theorizes an evolutionary explanation for men taking more risks


    A long but thought-provoking read.

  3. Amy Says:

    Halley Suitt, this also completely reminded me of Women Don’t Ask. I really enjoyed this post – thanks. I hope it contributes to a world with greater gender parity when it comes to acting like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks 😉

  4. Abright Says:

    To advocate self promotion is great. Especially because women may not do it as often. But you don’t seem to draw a line between self promotion and the positive, non-harmful to others, and lying, hurting other people, and generally being unethical.

    Some of your examples sound like you advocate sociopath and narcissism. In fact you even ask for women to be narcissistic self aggrandizing jerks . . .

    Nevermind how they might impact and hurt other people. You don’t care, and neither should they. Just like the Savings & Loans guys. Just like the guy who recently murdered his family after committing fraud, and then went on vacation. He had an image to uphold! Couldn’t let reality get in the way! (reference http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/01/this_man_killed_his_family_and.html)

    Good job at getting a lot of attention to support your need to be seen as important, but in terms of making the world a better place, you suck.

  5. Katherine Barnes Says:

    This theory is very prominent with the male sex. Women struggle in a world where men prevail based on the fact that they have, if you will, bigger balls. However, if you look at the history of women I don’t think you would agree. Women didn’t wait around for their prayers to be answered in the mid 20th century when they wanted rights equivalent to their sexual counterparts; They shouted and ran the streets with picket-fences and signs, demanding rights be given to them and future female generations.

    Today is no different. Women in the media headlines figured out ways to get there name out, developing lucrative careers out of it and having no shame about it. Creating your own sex tape or nude photo and launching it into media attention seems to be the way to get to the top of the Hollywood soapbox. Kim Kardashian, Pam Anderson, and Paris Hilton are just to name a few.

    Women today might not be as vocal as they should be in order to get to the top, but I wouldn’t say they don’t try.

  6. Astrida Valigorsky Says:

    Women aren’t as ‘cocky or half-cocked’ as men– not because they don’t have cocks– but because they don’t have that much testosterone (the drug that largely motivates men to do a lot of stupid things including writing articles about problems women have in the workforce).

    Speaking as a woman who has acted arrogantly and like a jerk and bragged (so much like a man) my observation is this:

    You can’t give a woman testosterone or make her into a man. The problem is that men need to recognize that as women, we may just underestimate our skills. And for women, we need to learn that ‘crowing like a rooster’ is a man’s game that we can also play to win.

  7. Vesper Lynde Says:

    You are so right Clay!!!! Women are already taught that we can use the system to get ahead, but in most cases the easiest most powerful, palpable thing at our finger tips, for most young women, is our looks, our sexuality. How refreshing to hear a man tell it like it is. I think all young females should read this or be exposed to this concept. Give young girls the upper edge!

  8. Derrick Lee Says:

    An instructor asking a former student “Tell me what you think I should say,” in regards to a recommendation letter reminds me of a post I saw on Yahoo Answers where a middle school student was asking for a random person to write for him a letter of appreciation to his parents. Asking for guidance in the matter will likely sway ones lack of opinion to something other than the only underlying requirement, sincerity.

    When asking “what he should say,” and his response is overtly favorable in all his capabilities, how can one be amazed? Should this truly affect your own mental state, when you admit practicing the behavior yourself. The man is applying for a position, not running for the Nobel Peace Prize on his merit of being humble.

    The underlying moral of this rant is that there is little purpose in developing an annoyance at the reaction that you have incited. Furthermore, instead of addressing a resolution to falsifying information in self promotion, which unfairly yields better employment to males over females as claimed, you recommend that a gender of your affinity jump on the band-wagon in spreading lies to level the playing field. 2+2=5

  9. LeeAnn DiSanti Says:

    I’m glad somebody was able to shed some light on the situation. Men just seem to have more of a cut-throat mentality. Now, I can only speak with a narrow perspective, but I feel that women tend to throw their work out there and let it speak for itself. We don’t feel the need to build up our egos or promote ourselves beyond our means because our work shows what we are capable of and that should speak volumes. The problem is that it doesn’t.

    So here’s were we get stuck. Of course it would help careers if women threw caution to the wind and became ruthless self-promoters, but is it really moral? Are we saying that morals have to take a backseat when it comes to success in certain career fields?

  10. Lars Says:

    “Besides, I’d rather be unknown and kind than a famous self-promoting narcissist, anti-social obsessive, or pompous blowhard.”

    But those aren’t the only two choices. You can be a pompous kind narcissist (Cecil Beaton, to name one). There’s plenty of variations, and yet women seem to take comfort in the notion that they’re morally superior in their passivity.

  11. Shanna Wester Says:

    The problem isn’t women’s supposed inability to self-promote effectively but the gender stereotypes that you reinforce in this post. You brushed upon it when you said, “some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against,” then continued to stereotype the majority of women as docile sheep and the majority of men as proud peacocks. These tired stereotypes do nothing but continue and encourage sexism and discrimination. With your line of thinking, of course a woman being proud enough of her work to promote it would surprise you. How many others think like you? If it is expected from men, and surprising from women, women will never be able to self-promote as effectively as men.

  12. Lars Says:

    ““Well-behaved women seldom make history” • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich”

    I love that so many women quote this, and then decide that they want both. Do well-behaved men make history? Doubtful.

    Being assertive isn’t the same as being a jerk, but women love to think it is, so they can take comfort in their own nice-ness.

  13. Monica Arevalo Says:

    It’s nice that you are getting women out there and realize that women have a harder time getting the same things men do but society sees the man as the better worker, speaker, image than a women.
    It’s hard to stand out when people see men in a bigger limelight.
    Women do need to start speaking up but I think that women should be the ones saying this “rant”. Sure you opened your eyes to what’s happening but you aren’t in a woman’s shoes.
    So you have no idea how it really is.
    It’s sad that it is 2010 and women and men are still not seen as equals.

  14. Ekta Poudel Says:

    I don’t agree that arrogant behavior show the capability of women. obviously,there is need of fair competition, but it doesn’t mean that to compete with men, women need to raise their hand for those works in which they are not interested and don’t have any skills. Arrogant behavior is not a synonym for masculinity and competent either. I think this views is creating the environment of gender issue rather than equality. I don’t think women will be happy to be “macho man”. We are women not a men and we don’t want to be “like” man. Come on!

  15. Emilie Dover Says:

    I hate to say it, but this blog is absolutely true about most women. I, personally have been fighting the battle of becoming a more assertive and confident women in the workplace, and have run in to many of the struggles described above by Clay. A great book for women like me and as described above is “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101” by Lois P. Frankel, it describes 101 mistakes women make that put a promotion, job, and opportunities in jeopardy. I highly recommend this book and truly believe that if more women educated themselves about their behaviors and the behavior of men, women would become more successful.

  16. Kyle Burton Says:

    I understand your point and think there is some validity to it. Maybe your word choice was not the best, like women need to be “jerks” to get jobs or have little self-confidence. Instead, use words that might be less offensive to others.

    From how I take it you want women to succeed more, and from being raised by a single mother that is a breath of fresh air. I know how women can be challenged by men on a daily basis, because my mother and me faced it while I was grown up.

  17. David Vega Says:

    In defense of men, it is not the fact that we are arrogant self-righteous jerks, we are just proud of our achievements and work ethic. No challenge can not be overcome. When confronted with a problem, we boast that we are capable of stepping up to the occasion, because we will. Women could and should be too. Their abilities match anything a man is capable of doing.

    This stems from the self-esteem issue you addressed in the part of not being the greatest drafter, but willingness to rise to the occasion. You have to raise your hand to be called on, you have to be confident to succeed, you have to be daring to be noticed: This is for all people and all generations. Personal confidence is a defining characteristic towards progress.

  18. Erica Silva Says:

    I find this article to be surprisingly very truthful. Women not taking a stand when it comes to opportunites has never boggled my mind until now. I also find this article to be inspiring. It reminds me that if i want something that i am not quite qualified for, i need to suck it up and learn it. I find some humor in the article because even though it focuses mainly on women, it in a way makes men look worse than woman, character wise. Women are awesome, so lets start showing it ladies.

  19. Paige Soucie Says:

    Although I feel that a lot of the points that have been made in this rant have a lot of merit, if our world has indeed come down to who can be the more arrogant person in a situation, we are in more trouble than I thought. Women do need to learn how to take advantage of situations and be able to market themselves better, but this should come from confidence, not arrogance, which I think is where this post conflicts.
    Sexism over history has caused many women to not feel enough confidence in themselves or their work, which is a sad state for society of our level to be in. Fortunately, there are women now such as the friend in the post who are taking charge of their life and their future. Once this sort of proactive attitude is taken, hopefully we will see more women taking pride in their work and their achievements. This also means though that men will have to learn to concede when there is in fact a person who is better than them, as opposed to shunning women when they are successful. It is this common reaction to successful women that makes it an uphill battle for women, and in some cases a deterrent to even trying.
    And though the tendency of men to be arrogant and overbearing in professional situations will not completely change, the cut-throat way of society will hopefully be able to tone down to allow for more people to have input and success in our quick-passed and developing society. The challenge of being the best or at least beating the other person is necessary to continue fueling our development, but hopefully the lies and manipulation that are talked about in this post will become less frequent and accepted.

  20. Cecelia Bustamante Says:

    I agree to many of your points on women’s behavior in the work force, but as a Women Studies minor, I can’t help but think that this post is focused on a work force that is deeply rooted in the compulsory heterosexual belief that women should adapt to a certain way to please a male dominated industry described by Adrienne Rich. Yes, I do know many women who would fall into the typecast you describe, sheepishly modest, but instead of asking women to become more like men, why can’t they pave their own path? If men are arrogant and use that to self-promote themselves to get ahead, why don’t we suggest ideas that cater to a woman’s own specific strengths. Women shouldn’t be asked to act more like men, but asked to find a different route towards success that aligns with their personalities. It shouldn’t be about submitting to a gender role, but perhaps, utilizing characteristics to your advantage in life.

  21. Celeste Arkeat Says:

    Unfortunately, I agree that this is a problem amongst my female peers. Part of it lies in a lack of positive portrayals and encouragements of this behavior. Women in stories and media who are assertive, arrogant, and self-promoting are often characterized as shrewish, unpleasant, and generally undesirable as employees, colleagues and people. The overbearing female is a commonly used trope and character format for writers when they want to create a character that the audience will find distasteful. This is not an unfixable problem, but it would require a kind of change in public perception of what characteristics are acceptable in women, or at least for more women to decide they don’t really care what is acceptable.

    It is being conveyed to women in schools that more self-promoting behavior is helpful and desirable. I personally have had several professors tell me and my classes that in job interviews, modesty will hurt you, and to tell your employers, yes, I am great, you should hire me because I’ll make you great too. The more women that take this to heart, the more likely it is that the gender discrepancy your presented will diminish.

  22. Alexandria Hampel Says:

    This ‘rant’ is very insightful and I happen to agree with you completely. I used to be one of those females that would just wait until someone recommended my work to be published or until some one told me my work was ‘good enough’ to be published or submitted. Since then, I have taken many risks and put myself out there, I would not consider myself arrogant because there are still some things I will not do that I know most men would, but I plan on getting there eventually.

    I think it is very important to self promote, nobody else can promote you like you can, so just do it yourself!

    Great post!

  23. LDF Says:

    One point no one seems to mention: workplace cultures differ. In my experience, academia rewards that kind of assertiveness/arrogance. Yet some cultures (e.g., a couple large companies) actively weed it out and prefer cooperative, nice people. None of us has had the chance to work in more than, I don’t know, 3/4/a-couple-dozen workplaces. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could know what “it is really like out there,” as it breaks down by industry, managerial level, etc? It’s a different game . . . depending on where you are.

  24. Harper Babin Says:

    The greater the risk the greater the success. I am a female and I couldn’t agree more with you, Clay. I often get ridiculed for my outspoken ways. People tend to take my confidence as having to hard of a personality. However, I see guys do and say the same things as me and no attention is paid to their actions. I have accomplished a lot as a 20 year old female. I have organized fundraisers, groups, interned nationally. I have accomplished these things because I am fearless. When I was only 18 years old I saw the host of the national television show “EXTRA” at a store in Scottsdale, AZ and I didn’t hesitate to go right up to him and introduce myself, followed by telling him I wanted his job and that’s what I was going to school for. He was so impressed by my confidence he gave me his phone number and email on the spot, which landed me my first internship in Los Angeles, CA. Not only was I a female, but I was the only freshman college student as an intern there that summer. Now in my junior year I have networked far more than my fellow female peers. People ask me how I’ve done everything I have so far. To be honest it was just being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of any opportunity that presented itself. I don’t feel sorry for females because I am one and I chose to stand out. Life is all about choices. Females may be more sensitive that they don’t want to set themselves up for embarrassment, but so what?! You have to try or else you’ll never know. Something great could come out of it and unless you give it a shot you could miss it. To never loose sight of opportunities I just keep in mind the greater the risk the greater the reward. Live by that and you’ll never have regrets.

  25. Kati Shearer Says:

    I don’t agree with women needing to become arrogant or narcissistic to succeed in the world of journalism. I do agree that women may still be holding back and being too reserved. There are many women in journalism that are willing to work as hard as possible to get jobs. The real problem is that when a woman lies or pushes her way up the ladder, she is then seen as a hag or much worse, while a man who pushes himself into a job is just seen as “determined”. Sexism is something that is still an issue today, as it was in years past. As a woman journalist, I want to succeed and move up fast. I am willing to stand up against the crowd and tell a boss or editor how great my work is, but I don’t need to lie. I agree that more women need to take a stand and not be afraid any longer. Their work is equally as good if not better than many of the “arrogant” men working in journalism. Women don’t need to lie to succeed, they just need to have no fear. Fear of breaking out of a society’s predetermined role is scary, but it is time.

  26. Nick Shepro Says:

    Although it is true that in some occasions women don’t speak up as often as they should, men often have the same shyness or self consciousness about themselves. Our society is still very sexist, but we are getting much better. I wouldn’t say women have equal opportunity everywhere as they should, but we are getting there. Your points were valid, but it is more about the personality of the individual person rather than the personality of the gender. Women are sometimes wary of speaking up for various reasons. They feel nervous, they don’t want to sound arrogant, they are unsure of themselves…etc, many men are the exact same way. The only reason that women don’t have as many or the same success rate as men at jobs is because we still are a little sexist. As we continue to grow as a society women are continuing to get more and more opportunities, and it isn’t because they need to be more arrogant. It really isn’t a cold clear cut thing. Some people get hired for their attitude, some their looks, some people their past or their families. Some people are even turned off and steered away from hiring arrogant jerks. You may feel that this is how women need to act, but it isn’t clear cut and it never will be.

  27. Jeremy Thompson Says:

    “They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.” He makes a valid point about men being jerks but then again I think that Shirky is wondering why women won’t step up to the plate and be arrogant and cocky just like some men. I think Shirky is just asking were are all the cocky women? Then again women I know and men that I know… like to down-play their success. I live by not telling the world everyday my accomplishments or who I met or what I do.

    Overall he’s just wondering why women aren’t cocky like men. It is what it is as they say. Or popular cultural…It’s Manny being Manny.

  28. Stacy Says:

    “’Ive tried to contact you via Facebook to discuss the ITP program at NYU and to find out the possibility of collaborating, but never received a response. I’ve tried to get in touch with you on Twitter, but haven’t received a response. I’ve tried to enter a conversation with you by building on some ideas of Jeff Jarvis’s and yours on algorithmic authority in a post (http://emergentbydesign.com/2009/12/07/the-next-evolution-of-the-web-on-immediacy-authority/), but didn’t receive a response.”


  29. Belinda Gomez Says:

    I think you’re on the money, judging by the pearl-clutching around Blogistan.

    But college has become feminized by all those young women who’ve been listened to and catered to since birth. They don’t have to come up with anything original–they got gold stars just for breathing, so why start now?

    And Venessa? Don’t you have a phone? Send a Fed Ex. You list all these people who like you and your work, but you can’t get Clay’s attention? Hmmm.

  30. Marinka Says:

    It’s not men who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, it’s sociopaths. By your model, we should all aspire to be Madoffs. And yet.

  31. Dan Conover Says:

    For the record, I’m just totally fucking awesome.


  32. Kay T. Says:

    Would you believe that in 2007, I was sitting in a room for a semi-formal interview then I heard the words female, mom and liability strung together by my interviewer. Any combination of those 3 words in a sentence doesn’t bode well for any female applicant. The work environment is just mean and evil. No matter how cut-throat-bitch you are! Let’s say you did lie to get in the door; well the eyes on you are just unbearable. “What will *she* do now?” will always loom your way. So how do you survive. It’s impossible.

  33. Leah Says:

    Wow, I was all ready to read this and hate (being a womyn myself), but I don’t. It’s accurate as it applies to me and at least some of my friends, while other women I know are in fact pretty good at self-promotion. I think if you taught women in their 30s instead of college-age women (and maybe you have older students, I don’t know b/c have never read your blog before), you would find they were much, much better at self-promotion. It’s something we women have to re-learn after adolescence strips us of self-confidence. Surviving Ophelia, etc. Sorry, ladies, but it’s true. Of course there are lots of exceptions but this is a valid generalization.

  34. anonymous Says:

    Really interesting. I think my female boss only got her job because she was like you described in your blog entry. No substance, all show. And if a woman does a little bit of show she will get the job anyway because you are wrong when you say women have a disadvantage in our society. That s just not true.

    Women are often preferred especially in governmental positions. But from all women there are, the bold (and perhaps stupid) ones get the job.

  35. Anne Michaud Says:

    There is something very basic about women’s culture that men don’t understand. Women who self-aggrandize risk being taken down by other women, in all the ways you can read about in books on ‘tween aggression and mean girls. Women don’t outgrow these emotional attacks on each other — they train for it as teens and carry it with them (us) into adulthood. I tried to tell this to a man recently, who was complaining about the meanness on display at his daughter’s high school. Even having had that introduction into girls’ culture, he still thought I was joking.

    I’m sure there are exceptions. But generally, American women’s society is very much a place where the person who dares to stand out is punished. As the Japanese say, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” It takes enormous ego strength to go up against that. (Think Mommy Wars.)

    I think male culture is different, and that men reward each other for individual achievement.

  36. Carrie Says:

    Are you really a jackass, or do you just play one on the internet?

  37. k Says:

    Wow, Clay, it sucks that you’re such a chauvinist prick and you want women to succeed in the workplace using time-tested strategies like believing in themselves more than other people believe in them.

    I can’t stand men like you.

    OH, WAIT. Nevermind….

  38. Betsy S Says:

    Hmm… I am wondering why my post wasn’t posted yesterday, but here goes attempt #2:

    I was amazed that Shirky could address this issue without ever using the word “entitlement.” He is talking about a white man’s sense of entitlement for access, power and wealth. This sense of entitlement is ubiquitous and invisible, but given his intelligence, I was surprised he didn’t go into this. The system of power around us and the families into which we are born privilege men and maleness incessantly in both subtle and direct ways. Of course, women don’t as often have that sense of entitlement, that same automatic “that is mine” thought and attitude. I agree, a re-training of minds and subsequent behavior is required, but to place that burden entirely on women’s approach to ambition is misguided and most certainly incomplete.

    I agree with Eric that to act entitled to success is great advice that all modest artists, academics, designers and business people should take. And white men (class and plenty of other dynamics play a role here) are not the sole owners this sense of entitlement, nor do all white men have it (this is not a rant against white men, but a mild attempt to point out this subject position). I know plenty of powerful, confident, immodest women with this sense of entitlement (you may know them as bitches, divas or crazies), and even though they are well armed with professional assertion, confidence, certainty, they are ALWAYS fighting harder to get the same recognition as their male counterparts. ALWAYS.

    Perhaps, rather than chiding women for their inabilities to be arrogant pricks, he should consider his own patronizing and ignorant tone, the one that puts women into a naive subject position. Does he think that women are not aware of these gender dynamics? Come on!
    Didn’t we all figure THIS out years ago? Shirky’s way of framing it in a myopic, uni-directional paradigm of cause-and-effect is not only anachronistic, but also reductive and simplistic. Power functions in circular and pervasive patterns.

  39. Isabel Kallman Says:

    Wait. Someone actually pays you to teach students?

    You’re promoting moral hazard as a virtue. It’s because of this attitude of “i just don’t care” and wanton risk that we’ve had to deal with major financial crises stemming from LTCM (in the late 90s) and most recently the mortgage crisis. Gah.

    Lots of (*cough*) men were in over their financial heads and couldn’t admit that they didn’t understand what they were dealing with. Result? almost global financial collapse both times (since i was in the industry long enough i can say with confidence that the vast majority of the executives in charge of this stuff were men– Zoe Cruz tried to sound the warning bell about the latest crisis and was fired for being too “risk averse.” BAH!)

    Your argument sucks because you use the examples of careless risk takers and con artists to advocate for better self-promotion by women. Really? I would think you would be more skilled at getting your point across. (unless this is a big joke?)

    (Your example of the female student touting her work to the journalist is completely different. She was confident in her work and wasn’t afraid to tell someone in a simple and professional manner. Now that is something I can get behind.)

    Writing this was definitely a risk, and not your best at all.

  40. Noreen Qureshi Says:

    As a woman, my first instinctual reaction is to agree with some of the others who have commented on the absurdity of making such a blanket accusation against a whole gender. Now a little worked up, I immediately tried to think of some ambitious, high-profile female professionals to back up my inclination and while names like Oprah and Hilary Clinton popped up, I slowly realized that for every girl name I recalled I could have pointed out at least five males in the same time.

    Drawing from my own life experiences of interactions with others, I am forced to agree with you…to a limit. I agree that women need to be more assertive in the confidence they have in their own abilities, that they do tend to care more about how others view them and make decisions while mulling over the risk of failure more than successes. However, I have to draw the line at the use of unattractive tactics of unashamed self-promotion and arrogance as means to “get ahead”. While this may give someone their first big break, making a habit of it will only hurt your image as a professional and relations with other expert contacts.

  41. William D'Urso Says:

    The tone of this article may not seem particularly charitable to women, and I don’t necessarily agree that women are intrinsically less arrogant than men. Shirky does present a value worth noting: persistence. As an aspiring journalist, I have always tried to cultivate a certain constructive arrogance. Reporters need to believe that they can get the story, and they need to believe that they can woo a subject into spilling the guts of the story. In my experience, women posses this quality as much as men. I think as we move further away from sexism in the workplace any myth of the competency of women will be dispelled.

    does present I appreciated this article because it demonstrates to me one of the most important values of journalism: persistence. While I don’t necessarily agree that woman don’t posses the same arrogance as men, I do believe that people should always try for the best opportunities. for instance, when I examine every successful person I know or have heard of, I am almost always impressed by their determination. Many successful journalists begin at newspapers but take a gamble by writing a book.

  42. Victoria Pelham Says:

    While I find the trend you noticed in “A Rant About Women” to be very sad, I am not sure if it’s the result of women’s inability to boast or “con” their way into a position, but rather society’s continued inability to give women’s pursuits and accomplishments the respect they deserve. Rather than focusing on how to get more women to buy into this self-praising mentality, I think the real question should be more about how to promote one’s skills confidently without having to act with this superior, over-the-top attitude. While men might be able to talk themselves up more (for whatever underlying reason), maybe that isn’t what is missing in this picture. Enough men talk themselves up, only to let down employers and customers alike. I really don’t think that the gender of a person determines how aggressive or arrogant a person is at self-promotion, and even if it does, I don’t see how convincing women to behave in a more prideful (supposedly manly) way would be beneficial, whether it would help one person get a job or not. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance.

  43. bonnie kyburz Says:

    Shirky’s post is troubling, not only because it hits a nerve and offends but because the problem is so vexing and *real*. i wrote about this a few years ago, and i found a group called (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP), “Bully Broads.” Companies pay up to $20,000.00 to send aggressive, assertive women to learn how to wear pink, cry at meetings, and so on. i, like others, tire of being advised on how i should behave in the midst of male power. and yet …

    here is some info on Bully Broads (ugh): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1476762.stm

    here is founder, Jean Hollands, speaking: http://www.viddler.com/explore/paloaltochamber/videos/5/

    no conclusions … just worrying along w/ the rest of us.

  44. Shawndrea Corbin Says:

    This post brings up a lot of important issues/challenges facing women in the work force today. I myself have been guilty of shying away from self promotion for fear of what others might think of me as a woman.

    It has always been evident that majority of women have faded into the background throughout history, and now when society has reached such a pivotal turning point, with women unafraid to classify themselves as “career oriented” rather than “family oriented”, it’s obvious that we still lack that carnal drive to succeed which pushed men to the forefront in the first place.

    I see this piece as neither feminist or anti-feminist. I see it as truth, having not only witnessed it but participated in it myself as well.

  45. Emily Timm Says:

    Although I found many points in this article to be interesting, the one line that really caught my eye is, “I only told lies I could live up to.” What makes you believe that you are lying if you can, in fact, do it? I know…you taught yourself to draft well after you said you were capable of doing so. But I’d be willing to bet you had the talent before you “lied,” and lying is what prompted you to pursue your talent.

    You have hit a nail here. Women are biologically, the more caring gender. But we don’t need to be more arrogant, we just need to be more confident. That means we need to be willing (excited, really) to fail, and then to be unsurprised when we succeed instead. You said you could draft well, and (not by the flash of a magic wand or by cheating) you made it happen. Women need to choose a goal, and know it can be reached; not think, hope, dream or try–know. As soon as women begin to look at their future KNOWING they WILL be who they want to be, our “weak” stereotype will go right out the window.

  46. Caroline Porter Says:

    Here’s the deal: I think it’s mostly history that has women placed in this position.

    Until very recently, women were not supposed to break out of their roles as mothers, daughters and wives within the household; they were all subject to their fathers, spouses, brothers, all the men that controlled what they said and did. This is still the case for many women in many parts of the world, but in the West recent history has allowed women to enter the workplace and strive to become equal (in pay, rank, etc.) to their male counterparts.

    I reemphasize the point that this is only a recent–within the last century, really–development. Men have had millennia to establish themselves as the dominant members of our patriarchal society, whereas women are just beginning to get their sea legs in the work place and in society.

    It’s not too much to expect of women to be more assertive and it’s a good point to bring up. So, if you’re looking for reasons why they haven’t become “pompous blowhards”, I’d say it’s because history has only very recently allowed them to even consider that role. Not to mention, we need a lot more of the truth, even in our assertiveness, than lies that we have to then work to fulfill.

  47. Chevas Samuels Says:

    One main thing that stuck in my mind as I continued reading the rest of the article is:

    “Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.”

    This is probably the best description I’ve heard regarding this subject. There’s a male student in one of my classes who’s a complete asshole; loud, pompous and self-assured, although most times he’s wrong. I thought, “Man, this dude is a jackass, but he’ll probably make a great sports reporter anyway, because he’s so arrogant.”

    I’m quite proud of my writing skills, but do I talk about it constantly or offer it up in conversation without being asked? No. I realize that I MUST change that in order to be successful in this business, because I don’t look that good in a mini-skirt.

  48. QotD #10 « Seeing Beyond the Absurd Says:

    […] I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrog… – Clay Shirky; I’d never be like that, but I’m actually not sure – depending on the situation, I might just behave like an asshole. I think many more girls ARE acting like complete jerks, it is already changing, but personally, I could care less what gender the jerks belong to – they’re fucking annoying and I don’t want more of them: Thanks, but no thanks. I actually thought to expand my answer, but this response sums it up quite nicely: It should be unacceptable for us to say that arrogance and aggression are to be aspired to. – Tom Coates […]

  49. FF Says:

    There’s no need for women or men to misrepresent themselves to get ahead. Every single day I deal with complete assholes (again, men & women) who I’m sure were hired because they looked good on paper–but you know, I am completely offended by their lack of motivation and integrity in regards to work. I in no way want to encourage people without the skill, nor the knowledge, nor the work-ethic to misrepresent themselves to their future employer. If the employer wants to spice things up, take a chance, and see’s the potential in someone with no prior experience–that’s awesome.

    It’s one thing for an person to blur the lines a bit, knowing full well they can get the job done, and they can meet expectations. It’s another thing when the person knows full well they are completely unqualified, fuck everything up and at that point can’t ask for help in fear of being outed as a complete hack.

    Women don’t need to lie more to get ahead–they just need to be more vocal about their wants/needs/desires if they expect anything. But that goes for everyone. Men are just as guilty.

    Don’t beat around a bush, don’t pretend people can read your mind, and don’t pretend everything thinks you are amazing if you never share it–that’s a fucking ludicrous way of living.

    The first step in being successful & awesome, is to tell yourself you are successful & awesome. I think the problem with the non-assholes (supposedly “women”) who never get ahead but are amazing and nobody knows it, is that they themselves don’t even know how fucking awesome they are. And of course that begs the question, how can these non-assholes (supposedly “women”) who never get ahead but are amazing and nobody knows it, ever get ahead, when they are stuck with the mindset that they aren’t awesome, and their work doesn’t mean anything? Well, they definitely don’t need to lie or misrepresent themselves, but they do need to inflate their ego a bit, stop whining, and remember that to be effective at anything (life, work, relationships) they have to s-p-e-l-l it out for people.

    I mean honestly, how can you relay to someone else that you are successful, have your shit together, are awesome, and are worthy of their time, without actually believing it. I mean some people are good at putting on a facade, but only for so long.

    To be awesome, you have to believe it yourself first. This of course means people have to be more self-aware, more communicative, and responsible for their actions/behavior/wants/needs… I know, it’s asking for a lot right–for people to actually be self-sufficient, responsible, communicative human beings.

  50. juliejulie Says:

    Hey, a little spin never hurt anybody. In the olden days, it used to be called charm. I’ve charmed my way into many things I didn’t know how to do, and the smart people who let me in probably knew it. They also knew I’d figure it out, because if I were smart enough to get them to let me try, I was probably smart enough to figure out the task at hand.

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